We're All Doomed I Tell Ye...

As regular readers know, I have something of the Pollyanna about me. Mrs Cheery-Knickers, my good friend Sarah calls me. Mrs Large-Knickers-Made-of Steel might be more accurate. But hey ho.

And it's usually true. Faced with misfortune, I can be annoyingly upbeat.

But even I was faced with a challenge last night at my daughter's school play. If you've got kids and they've ever been in a play, you'll know they're usually good fun. First, you get to see your offspring outshining all others as second spear carrier on the left. Second, the sheer amusement of flapping sets and missed lines whispered by the prompting teacher always cheers the darkened soul. Or am I just a bit contrary?

But not last night.

Last night the sets were bloody perfect and not one, not one I tell ye, of the girls forgot their lines.

Left with all this professionalism, there was only the play to amuse us. And frankly Orpheus and Eurydice aint that amusing. Actually when my son played one of the heads of Cerberus in a Latin rendition of the greek tragedy (yes really!) it WAS quite funny, but last night we went fully legitimate and the performance as done by authentic greek chorus.

Sixty girls dressed from head to toe in black, speaking and moving as one. Have you heard sixty thirteen year old girls scream as one? It was like being at a One Direction concert.

Then there was the storyline. I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but it's not exactly chick lit. Basically Orpheus gets married to a wood nymph, but even at their wedding their is a portent of doom. Or dooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom as the sixty girls shouted. At least sixty times.

Essentially, within minutes she dies. Cue sixty girls wailing.

Then Orpheus sets off to  the Underowrld to get her back. This bit has a fair bit going for it, as our hero is faced with ever greater challenges, overcoming them with his talent.
You get the picture: sixty girls swaying as the river Styx, sixty girls growling as Cerberus. I tell you, three lads asking 'Quid est Orpheus? Woof woof,' has a hell of a lot more comedy value.

Anyhow, soon Orpheus is on his way home, with the potential of having his wood nymph back, but at the last moment he fucks up. Wail, wail, howl, howl.

On the way home we told my daughter it was a triumph and that, quite naturally, her screaming skills had been vastly superior to her best mates'. To be fair, she is good at screaming...but while I was nodding and smiling it occured to me that what the whole fandango lacked was any light and shade. High drama and tension is great, but it has to be offset by quiter more reflective moments.

This is how it works in the best stories no?

I'm all for putting your hero up a tree and throwing rocks at him, but in between each new rock, there has to be a period of contrast. This allows the reader to breathe. And when the next rock comes, it feels all the sharper.

As a crime writer, I'm all too guilty of putting too much stuff in my work. This happens, then that, then something else. Tension rises and stakes get higher and higher. Yet I must remind myself to provide my readers with those breathers. As last night's show reminded me, without them, it can all get a bit much.
HB x


Sandra Davies said...

A timely reminder Helen (as well as a thoroughly enjoyable post) - breathless haste through what is supposed to be a family saga has left me aware that there are several slo-o-o-w bits to insert.
It's partly to do with not wanting to bore the reader too, isn't it? If they look away they might not bother coming back.

Morrigan Dubh said...

I recently started following Strictly Writing & I just love it!! :D
I have to say this post made me giggle, I love your style of writing! ^_^ I'm not big into crime novels at all, but I think I just may check yours out later today & see if they have any of them in the local bookshop!
Also, I love to write myself - or, rather, try to - & this is quite the useful piece of advice!
Thank you,
Shauna :)

Rin Simpson said...

Excellent point. Too much gloom and I will just put the book down and walk away. After all, I read for entertainment - real life is stressful enough!

DT said...

That read as a far better column than many I've read in The Guardian on a weekend (you know who you are).

Para 11 has to be the best summary of a Greek tragedy that I've ever encountered - you may just have won me over to the classics. Yes, light and shade are always present, even if it's gallows humour in the face of increasing adversity.

And clearly, based upon your own admission, you're a pantser (of the steel variety) rather than a plotter!

Fionnuala said...

You had me at doooooooooooooooooom! X